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Which teams are a potential fit for Tom Brady? It’s a short list.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady speaks after a loss to the San Francisco 49ers (Tony Avelar/AP)
8 min

The worst season of Tom Brady’s NFL career, aside from the one cut short by an ACL injury over a decade ago, drags on.

Tampa Bay, now 6-7, has no real identity on offense. Brady looks lost and overwhelmed, oscillating between staring in bewilderment at his tablets and occasionally raging at teammates on the sideline. It somehow appears as if Brady and star wide receiver Mike Evans have never played together even though they formed one of the most productive duos in the NFL from the moment Brady landed with the Buccaneers before the 2020 season. And no team has been more futile trying to run the football this season than Tampa Bay despite the presence of the GOAT QB under center.

It’s widely assumed around the league that Brady’s days with Tampa Bay are dwindling. Sure, this outfit might still win the pathetic NFC South, and anything can happen in the postseason, but there were few indications to take this team seriously as a Super Bowl contender even before the 49ers embarrassed them, 35-7, on Sunday. Things are not great between Brady and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, I’m told by people familiar with the dynamic, with philosophical differences dating from last season. And when Brady left New England, it was at least in part to get away from a conservative, uber-defensive-minded head coach in Bill Belichick, yet now he finds himself playing for one in Todd Bowles after the sudden offseason retirement of Bruce Arians.

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You could argue that age is catching up to the 45-year-old Brady. Some who know Brady well believe that after all he has been through this season, both professionally and personally, he will be more driven than ever to prove 2022 was a fluke. Others point to his brief retirement after last season as evidence that his football mortality remains front of mind. Regardless, Brady’s world is almost certainly going to change again in 2023, whether he walks away from the game or merely walks away from the Buccaneers.

So what comes next? At his age and coming off this season, the market for Brady could be limited. More to the point, we know that Brady will be incredibly discriminating about which teams he would even consider joining. Then there is the matter of figuring out a contract (which, at its core, would obviously be short term). Which teams are a potential fit? Agents and executives I speak with have pointed to few operations that might actually be a match.

San Francisco 49ers

There’s no place like home. A Bay Area reunion, with an expert schemer/play caller in Kyle Shanahan as coach,and a loaded roster, would top Brady’s wish list. “That’s the best fit for him,” said one GM, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to discuss players under contract to other teams. “But is that what Kyle wants?”

Things are complicated by the season-ending injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo and youngster Trey Lance, to say nothing of rookie Brock Purdy’s exemplary performance, albeit in a very small sample size. Garoppolo re-signing in San Francisco was considered likely before his latest injury, but perhaps Brady could be the ideal veteran presence to have around next season. The fact those quarterbacks share an agent makes this even more delicious food for thought.

Miami Dolphins

For much of this season, Tua Tagovailoa looked like an MVP candidate. But back-to-back losses in California have exposed his warts to an alarming degree, and this team already incurred significant fines and penalties for tampering with Brady in the past. If you are going to lose draft picks flirting with him, does it make sense to find out what he can do for you? Tagovailoa’s long injury history and recent shocking inaccuracy have to give owner Stephen Ross pause. He’s been chasing a big fish quarterback for a long time. All the speed the Dolphins have at the skill positions would allow the aging passer to focus on short and intermediate throws and get the ball out quickly. “It’s a great roster for him, and he’d get two shots at Belichick,” noted one NFL executive, referring to the Dolphins’ AFC East rivals.

Las Vegas Raiders

More on Derek Carr below, but let’s just say it hasn’t been the season anyone would have expected from him. It didn’t sound as if Brady and Raiders Coach Josh McDaniels, his longtime coordinator in New England, were totally simpatico at the time the quarterback defected to Tampa Bay, but clearly this could be a schematic fit. Las Vegas boasts a loaded offense (when healthy), perfect conditions in a dome and a system in which Brady has won more Super Bowls than anyone else could imagine. What Brady and McDaniels accomplished together cannot be discounted, especially in a limited field of suitors.

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The field

Not many other suggestions make sense. Carolina and Indianapolis don’t have nearly enough to offer, nor do Atlanta, Washington, Seattle, the New York Giants or New Orleans at this point. The Tennessee Titans probably will win their terrible division again, but they are bereft of talent on offense. An appealing suitor would have to be legitimately on the cusp, and the geography and coaching profile must be right, too.

What’s next in Vegas …

Some might have seen the Raiders’ latest disaster, blowing another 13-point lead for another improbable loss, as a reason McDaniels might not get a second season in Las Vegas. Others watched him basically call nothing but running plays after Carr, a $40 million quarterback, threw a terrible end zone pick to end the first half against the Rams, and saw it as an indicator of a potential quarterback change. Baker Mayfield, who just got to the Rams, won that Thursday night game from behind while the Raiders played a steadfastly conservative style.

“The biggest thing about [Carr’s] extension,” one GM noted, “is how friendly it is. The team has all the control, and that’s a very tradable contract. Some people think Josh won’t be back, but I don’t think the quarterback will be back.”

… and in Tennessee?

The Titans seem to be falling apart, getting undressed by the Jaguars over the weekend in their third straight loss, and the firing of longtime general manager Jon Robinson continues to be a primary topic of conversation among his peers. One possible replacement: Texans GM Nick Caserio.

As previously reported, a Texans coaching change continues to look in order, and several executives I have spoken to don’t believe Caserio will be the guy to fire another head coach after one season. If there is a house cleaning in Houston, staying in the AFC South is possible. Caserio has ties to Titans Coach Mike Vrabel and director of player personnel Monti Ossenfort from their time in New England.

“That’s a natural landing spot to me,” a GM said of Caserio. “Vrabel is going to have some say in that hire.”

The Titans are in a very weird spot as a potential division winner that doesn’t have a Super Bowl-caliber roster — ownership certainly doesn’t think so. They really need to see more of rookie quarterback Malik Willis for the benefit of the next GM.

Notes from around the league

With the bye weeks finally over, it’s worth noting that a late bye can work wonders. In 2018, the Patriots had Week 11 off, and in 2019 the Chiefs benefited from a Week 12 bye. The Buccaneers took off after a Week 13 bye in 2020, and the Rams did the same after a Week 11 bye last year. All four teams won the Super Bowl. It’s not clear whether there’s an obvious candidate this season, but that trend has been notable. …

It was brutal timing for Kenny Pickett to suffer another concussion. The Steelers’ rookie quarterback was earning rave reviews within the organization for his weekly growth and development. …

Seattle and Minnesota probably have the worst defenses in the NFL right now, according to evaluators who have been watching closely. That seems likely to keep the Vikings from advancing beyond one round in the playoffs — and Seattle from even getting there.